UPDATED: She’s back. Two years after using a lip cream that left her facing drug charges and a lengthy suspension, Norwegian skier Therese Johaug won the country’s traditional ski season opener at Beitostølen on Friday. She skied 1o kilometers in just 25 minutes, 42.6 seconds, beating all her rivals, and then skied on to more victory during the weekend.
After first winning on Friday, she also won another 10K race on Saturday. That left her two for two heading into the launch of the World Cup season on November 22, and in a good position to take on what she called “the world’s best skiers” as well as Norway’s.
“I did it!” Johaug blurted out after crossing the finish line in her first professional ski race since the 2015-2016 season. It was later that summer when her nightmare began and she was prevented from competing in the sport she loves.
“It’s very special to ski here today,” Johaug told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after her comeback victory on friday. “It’s so incredibly good to come back into the cross-country skiing family, to come up here and meet everyone I’ve skied with for many years, hear the cheering from the trails. It was a special feeling.”
Her family was out in full-force, with mother Gro Johaug on the verge of tears as she told NRK that seeing her daughter ski again “really warmed a mother’s heart. It’s been a tough time, but we have stood together and we have supported Therese. And Therese has said all along that she would prove to herself that she can stand at the starting line again. She managed that on Friday, and she did it well. We’re really happy on her behalf today.”
Nervous, and not without drama
Johaug, who had admitted to being nervous before the season-opener, beat her closest rival, Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, by nearly 24 seconds and third-place Kari Øyre Slind by nearly 36 seconds. It was an impressive performance, during which Johaug herself said she “went into my bubble” and simply tried to concentrate on technique. She wanted revenge after all the heartache and disappointment of the last two years, and she got it: “Therese Johaug is back in top shape,” said NRK’s skiing commentator Jann Post.
NRK reported that there was some drama on the sidelines, though. She broke some new rules regarding the length of her ski poles and where racers are restricted from using both at the same time to propel themselves forward. The rules were imposed after Johaug skied her last race in the spring of 2016.
The same new rules also caused trouble for Norway’s Petter Northug, who’s trying to mount a major comeback himself after failing to qualify for the ski team and the Olympics last year. He hasn’t been satisfied with his skiing or his physical condition this year either, and hinted earlier this week that if he hasn’t significantly improved by Christmas, he may end his professional skiing career.
He impressed both himself and his critics with some strong skiing at Beitostølen on Friday, but ended being disqualified because he used his poles too much and wrongly skated in the beginning of the men’s 15-kilometer classic race. Northug took the jury’s decision well: “I should have been disqualified at several places,” Northug told NRK after the race. “The jury made a completely correct decision.”
He would have ended in 20th place, much better than the “60th to 80th” place he had expected, since the 32-year-old Northug thinks he’s in “historically bad shape.” Didrik Tønseth won the men’s race, 12.6 seconds ahead of Emil Iversen in second place and Sjur Røthe in third.